Better, not bitter



I have been requested to speak on trials, temptations and stumbling blocks and how they are instruments in the life of a Christian. They can be weapons to you in your Christian life as well.

The text is Genesis 41:52

52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

Joseph spoke these words when he had his second child. In the Zulu it says, ‘He made me give birth in the land of affliction.’

Joseph had much fruit in his life but his life was heartbreaking. His affliction was indescribable. No temptations could compare to those he had to endure. There were great and there were many stumbling blocks in his life. The tribulations, temptations and stumbling blocks he had to endure became great weapons in his life.

In Hebrew it means God made me to be successful, to bear fruit, in the land of my affliction. Joseph understood that the land and the place in which he had been placed was the land of affliction. But that tribulation improved his spiritual life.

In English we can say it so well: all these hardships, suffering, temptations, stumbling blocks that he faced in his life, made him better, not bitter. If what you face in life makes you bitter then there is something radically wrong. Then you need to make sure that you are a child of the Lord - you may be a child of the devil. If these things have made you bitter, we should wail about you because you have become bitter instead of better. If there is a trace of bitterness in your life, it is tragic. Whatever comes your way must make you a better Christian, more holy, more pure, more dedicated.

You need to go through trials and temptations. You cannot expect summer in your life forever. Winter must come - when you will face such things. If you meet with trials and temptations, realise the Lord is causing you to grow. He is teaching you. You cannot be a chocolate soldier who meets with heat and melts. We need to be hard, as hard as steel. Not that we’re overcome when we meet up with hardship. We cannot cry like a baby who needs a dummy when faced with trouble, problems and hardship. There was a time for that, but now you have grown up and you need to be a man. When you meet with hardship, you need to pray, ‘Lord, give me strength, help me to be a man who will ride this wave and overcome.’

Pilate’s wife was a heathen woman who had a dream. After that she wrote her husband a letter and said, ‘Do not be guilty of that man’s blood.’ Unfortunately, Pilate did not listen. You cannot guarantee that all men will listen when they should listen. Wife, if you die before him, it may be that your husband will become a Christian and a better person after your death. But whether he repents or not, it has nothing to do with you as a wife, that is God’s business. But what He expects of you is that through all those trials and stumbling blocks, you will turn out to be a purer and better Christian in every sphere and realm.

Joseph spoke about his land of affliction. What kind of a land are you living in? Maybe your land is one of suffering. Things have not worked out as you dreamt. You may have had ideals and plans but everything has turned out the exact opposite, and sometimes you feel as if your life is ruined.

I would like to illustrate it with an oyster found in the depths of the sea. Some people eat oysters. They open the clam and eat the flesh. Some eat it raw and down it with alcohol. (I trust that you do not drink alcohol and that what I have said will not be a temptation.)

This oyster has a top and bottom part, like a clam shell. Sometimes a small grain of sand enters the oyster and settles inside. You know what it is like when you have a little stone in your shoe and you walk with it. This grain of sand in the oyster irritates it constantly. You cannot see it from the outside. The oyster appears as it should. But deep inside the oyster it is hurt and wounded – this little creature of God.

What happens? God created this creature in a very interesting way. God gave this oyster resources to handle this source of irritation – this thing that constantly troubles it. These resources enclose the grain of sand in some kind of material which smooths all the sharp edges that hurt the oyster, caused it pain and sleepless nights. It continues to cover this source of irritation and eventually this stumbling block, (temptation, hardship) changes into a beautiful pearl. The pain is deep down, hidden, internal but what happens? The oyster does not rot, it does not get bitter, it does not worsen, it produces a precious pearl.

You should not just produce a pearl; you should be the pearl. ‘Why has my husband been unfaithful to me?’ you ask. ‘Why has he turned his back on me?’ ‘Why are my children like little devils?’ ‘Why do I have to experience such a thing?’ ‘Why do I have to live in such a country?’ Do you know why? Never ask why again. God tells you.

In the Far East, people farm with oysters. They inject into every oyster something that causes the pain and heartache because they want precious pearls.

How wonderful if God would take you as the pearl and put you in His crown in eternity. Now, however, you have the most unstable, unreliable husband. For the rest of your life, you moan and groan and tell other people about your misery. You are missing the whole thing. Don’t you see that God is busy with you and He wants to turn You into a pearl.

Consider the hardships, temptations and stumbling blocks Joseph had to face in his life. Where did they come from? From his own home - his father’s home and his brothers. When his brothers told stories about him, his father and mother opposed him and said, ‘Joseph, not like that.’ When he said that he had a dream where the sun and moon bowed to him, they said, ‘My child, that cannot be. You cannot expect your father and mother to bow to you.’ In a way Joseph made a mistake, he should not have shared it with everyone. Jesus says that if you throw your pearls before the swine, they will tear you to bits and pieces and tread your pearls underfoot. Your trials and temptations will not come from Red China or Russia, but from your own household. It could be your own husband, your own children, your own family. But there you need to stand. These trials, temptations and stumbling blocks need to make you a man and bring you close to the Lord.

His brothers took Joseph and sold him into slavery. Did you ever hear Joseph speak even once about his slavery and suffering? How painful it must have been to be sold by his own brothers. Joseph lived as an upright and pure young man, serving Potiphar and then Potiphar’s wife tempted him every day. She was an evil, immoral woman. She eventually grabbed him and he escaped like a piece of slippery soap. He said, ‘How can I do such an evil thing and sin before God?’ The evil woman kept his coat and blamed everything on Joseph. ‘My husband, I screamed and shouted and when he heard me he ran away!’ Can anything be as evil as the tongue of a woman after she has been visited by the serpent? See to it that you do not have a double tongue. Your tongue should be pure before God otherwise you and your children will be cursed.

Joseph was thrown into jail by Potiphar. Do you see his land of suffering? Two fellow prisoners each had a dream - Pharaoh’s cupbearer and his baker. Pharaoh became angry with them and threw them into jail. Joseph got to hear about their dreams and he interpreted the dreams for them. He said to the baker, ‘Pharaoh will execute you.’ To the cupbearer, ‘Pharaoh will release you and you will be restored to your position.’ Joseph asked the cupbearer to do him a favour and plead his case before Pharaoh. The cupbearer promised to do so. Soon after that the cupbearer was restored to his position and the baker, executed. Two years went by and Joseph remained in jail. The cupbearer had forgotten him. It was winter for him. If you had been treated like that, would you be better or bitter?

In jail, Joseph was strengthened by God. He grew spiritually. Eventually spring came and winter was over. He was summoned before Pharoah to explain his dreams. God raised him to a high position.

If you asked Joseph now, how did you get there? There is no shortcut. You get there because of suffering, going through the fire and stumbling blocks. When you see people who are blessed of God you desire it as well, but you do not want the hardships, you prefer a shortcut. You do not know what it costs. You may reach some heights but before the end you will have fallen.

In 1954/55/56, Nicholas Bhengu, a minister from Umlazi, had a meeting for ministers. He said, ‘You want my blessing? You need to suffer as I did. You won’t receive the blessing before you go through those depths and suffer the way I suffered. That is the only way to get there.’ That is what he said, and there is some truth in it. That is why James said, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2

Not that you are swept away by the river, that you are overcome by the temptation, but that you overcome.

“For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

In 1607 Paul Gerhardt was born in Germany. For the next 400 years there was no other German as well-known for the hymns he wrote. He composed 123 hymns. There are no other songs and hymns in the last four centuries like his, they do not get old.

He experienced tremendous suffering. At the age of 7, his father passed away. His mother raised him at a time of tremendous suffering during the thirty year war. At the age of 15, he was sent to a school meant for princes where there was a terrible outbreak of a disease and he was taken to a different place. He studied theology in Wittenberg to become a minister. While he was studying theology, bullets flew. He was rushed by soldiers to another place and half of the city where he stayed was burnt down. The home and church where he worshipped burnt down. He got married, had a child but it died. He had three more children and they also died. Eventually his wife became unwell. He had another child and when the child was about 6, his wife became very ill. He nursed her but she died and left him with a 6-year-old child.

He served in a large church where they were 2 ministers. The minister who served with him was so jealous of him that he hated him and tried to hurt him in any way possible. With all this pain of losing his wife and children – (I have not gone into the detail of the suffering of his children and wife), people said that he should have been depressed, and possibly lost his mind but he sang wonderful songs. He never screamed but sang wonderful songs with wonderful words.

He wrote the words of a hymn:
Commit thy ways to the Lord,
that which pains your heart,
nobody cares for you as much as God does.
He who directs the heavens,
He who directs the clouds, and the wind,
He will create a way where your feet can walk.

He said you must commit your way to God if you want it to go well. You must look at His work if you want your work to stand. Through complaining, worrying and doing things in your own strength, you will not get anywhere. Pray and you will stand. Rise up, take all your suffering, take all your trouble and say goodbye to it. Get rid of that which causes your heart to sorrow. You are not in control of things. It is God who ensures that all goes well with you.

Through everything that he suffered, he sang these hymns. He composed them. That is a pearl. Do you see how a pearl is created? This man had every reason to be bitter, but he became better.

Humanly speaking, it is easier if the man dies first because a women can live on, but a man can be lost without a wife. Even while she is alive, he sometimes cannot find things and the woman must come and find them. The wife knows how to iron, cook and teach but what can a man do? He can only eat. He eats what the wife cooks (but there are some exceptions to the rule, of course).

After his wife had passed away and he was left alone with his child he wrote a song with the words, “Why should I grieve for I still have Christ? Who will take Him away from me, who will rob me of heaven? What I have, I was given by the Son of God.”

Do you see? That is a pearl. He did not walk around with heavy loads. He was not bent down under the weight, moaning and groaning about the difficulty of his life and counting all the hardships he experienced.

Paul was another man who suffered but he says, 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37

He says Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Philippians 4:4 Paul could sing.

He said, God gave me fruit, multiplied, strengthened me in my land of suffering.

All these 400 years, Germans would not have had these wonderful hymns if Paul Gerhardt had not gone through suffering. Honey came from his life. I would be so happy if you could have a glimpse of what God wants to achieve in your life.